Friday, September 13, 2002

On Diets and men

Peter Briffa, like me, is on a diet and perhaps influenced by this, decries David Aaronvich's piece on Obesity.

Declaration of interest- I've been on a diet for about 4 months. I've gone from a 42 waist to a 34 and have another stone and a half to lose.

So I think I have some insight into why people eat to much. It's because lardy food is nicer. OK, you can train yourself into liking fruit and tomatoes, but a nice bag of chips is better. Especially if you live in a cold wet climate.

If we want to stop western obesity, we can either chavge our entire sedentery life style, all take loads of amphetimines or get someone to invent really nice, tasty, fast food that isn't lardy as hell. That's why a fat tax kind of makes sense, because it would encourage that. Godamn it I want fat free chip that don't cause unpleasant side effects. And I want it NOW.

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Another Anniversary

It's my first month as a blogger here. 556 visitors to date, so, subtracting me cheating, I can be reasonably confident of 500 visitors. 500 divided by 30 is ummm just over 16, so let's say that maybe 10 people read me relatively frequently. How exclusive and ahead of the curve is that?

It's not a stellar performance, but I've been picking up numbers week by week, the peaks keep getting higher and the troughs not so low, and occassionally, maybe I say something worth reading.

So thank you, whoever you are, for stopping by.

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Things I thought I'd never see.

Amanda Platell seems to have fallen in love. With Tony Blair. Yikes.

Honestly, This has stunned me, I found Amanda Platell interesting, entertaining and pretty good at her job. I also thought she was about as partisan as you could get. But now I have to add her to my growing collection of Right Wingers who love Tony. I'm sure she'll get on well with Peter Briffa, Andrew Sullivan et al.

Being Tory leader was "one of the most difficult jobs in British politics", she said,

"especially up against a man like Tony Blair who is one of the best leaders this country has ever seen".

"He has this incredible combination of normalness and greatness. Combine that with charisma and it is almost unbeatable."

"With the best will in the world - and being generous as you can - Iain doesn't possess those qualities."

For American's who have no Idea what I'm talking about, Amanda Platell was media director for ex-Tory leader William Hague. Try and imagine Donna Brazile saying that about George Bush.

I hope the media boys at Millbank, oops I mean Old Queen Street, will be making sure that gets used on a PPB one day soon.

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Poor old Iaiaiaiaian

In case anyone didn't notice, Iain Smith set out to slay the 5 giant social evils today.

( As an aside, if I call him Duncan, I have to type Charles Lynton for our Tone, out of balance, so I refuse. It says something about our leaders though, that one has a fake double barrel, and the other has a set of names that would make Bertram Wooster proud, but doesn't use them)

Far be it for me to mock. Iain's first year has been tough. He was elected in the shadow of September the 11th, lead a party in the slough of despond. At least this is serious politics. It's just, well, The Five giants were originally to be slain by the creation of a welfare state. How are the Tories proosing to tackle such huge issues. Why by cutting down on forms and improving discipline of course!
"Mr Duncan Smith will also once again focus on crime as a key area where the Tories hope to exploit the Government’s record. Highlighting the mugging this week of Sandra Howard, the Shadow Chancellor’s wife, he will say: “The problem with street crime continues to defy the Government’s efforts to deal with it. No one is safe.”

"At the same time, he will add, teachers are quitting their jobs because they spend too much time filling in forms or face a rising tide of assaults from unruly pupils. He will describe the discipline crisis as “the cancer at the heart of schools”, adding: “Too many parents are forced to send their children to a school that is not right for them. Too many children are falling behind in failing schools.”

If you're going to set an objective as far reaching and noble as that, you should at least have a clue about how to go about it. Otherwise, it looks like you're just paying lip service.

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Of Americans and Europeans

Since my post of earlier this week on previous American presidents trimming and turning on matters of war, and how this can be compared to the attitude of European leaders I have had the honour of being criticised by USS Clueless and have an e-mail debate with the man who was born in a room of porphyry.

This is my first experience of sustained and reasoned criticism, and I quite enjoyed it. My original post was relatively offhand, and while I don't disown it at all, to be challenged to justify yourself should always be regarded as a refreshing experience. I was probably helped by the fact that in debate porphy (his abbrev. not mine!) has been a friendly critic, not given to posts with titles like "YOU SUCK".

The criticisms that have been made of my point can, I think, be summarised as follows

1) The situations are very different- Roosevelt was campaigning to get into war. Schroeder is trying to avoid it. The whole moral tone is different

Completely true, yet irrelevent. My point was that European leaders are making political capital out of a natural desire for peace. This may not be morally very wonderful, but they're hardly alone in this. This is exactly what Wison and FDR did, though in different ways. So when people criticize them for doing so, they should be aware that this is not a european disease, but a factor of politics.

For those of you who are new to my site (i.e., everyone) it's primarily concerned with the intricacies of political positioning. From that perspective, what I see in Schroeder especially, is a man locked in a tight race, who sees over 90% of his population are "opposed to war in Iraq" (in the nebulous language of pollsters). He trims to take advantage of this. Politician in trying to win votes shock.

Both FDR and Wilson did the same, if for different reasons. In both cases the US was supporting a war within a year. I happen to believe that who-ever wins the German elections, the Chancellor will be subtly supporting any UN approved action within a year.

I quote the Times from yesterday in my favour, where wiggle room is clearly left in Schroeders campaign rhetoric and by hs diplomatic strategists.

"However, these strategists have mapped out a face-saving plan. Soon after the election, Germany will announce its readiness to take over as the lead nation in running the international protection force in Afghanistan.

Turkey’s mandate ends in December and the Germans will ask them to extend for two more months.

By February 2003, the Germans, with the Dutch, would be in a position to take an active role in Afghanistan. This would permit British and Turkish troops there to be redeployed in an Iraq war. "

2) If Schroeder was just trying to avoid war for germany, fine, but why tell america what it should do?

He sees it differently, of course.

"What kind of friendship is it that does not permit disagreement over the existential question of war and peace?” Herr Schröder asked the crowd. “It cannot be that a friend demands something and we immediately have to do as we are told: that’s subordination and that’s not my thing, not my thing at all.”

Apart from sniggering over the gratuitious "existential" (Even I loathe continental tendencies to bring philosophy into the nasty business of politics ). We see that "Being told what to do", appears to be the universal translation for someone else criticising you. Schroeder has said nothing that woud prevent a US attack on Iraq. Why, he's not even committed to stopping the US from using Air Bases. Which Helmut Kohl did for the proposed bombing of Libya, remember. He's just said Germany wouldn't get involved even if the UN authorised an attack. Which is no big deal, cause they didn't for Iraq in '91 either.

3) Germany is supposed to be an ally of the US, so it has an obligation to support America. The US was an ally of no-one, so should not be judged to the same standards.

There are two kinds of alliance obligation. The specific obligations of Article V of NATO, which as far I can tell does not apply to pre-emptive attacks, does not seem to be in play. I've not heard any US diplomats claim that the NATO countries has an obligation to support the US in an attack on Iraq.

The second obligation is the obligation of morality. Saddam Hussein is evil. Your ally is in trouble. As Robert McNamara said to Wilson, an Ally should pay the Blood Price. There may be no specific obligation or treaty, just the obligation of doing the right thing. Here, I believe the duty on Roosevelt was the same if no greater as that on Europe now.

Roosevelt has long been praised for his actions, but let us be clear. Not until Germany declared war on America did America join the war in Europe. after Munich, After Dunkirk, after Vichy, after the Battle of Britain, after the invasion of Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Poland. Did he have a treaty obligation to act? Of course not. Did have a moral duty to act? Of course he did.

Now, this links back to the point made that FDR was going in the other direction to Schroeder. Not from the perspective of the time. In 1937 Roosevelt made the Quarantine speech. Public and media reaction was overwhelmingly negative and Roosevelt trimmed. At Munich he intervened to push the negotiations to succeed. The knowledge that FDR was not prepared to significantly support the democracies and wanted Munich to find a peaceful solution was a factor in the Allies decision not to fight.

As he approached the 1940 elections, FDR increased his rhetoric on peace, culminating in the Foreign Wars speech, a pledge that meant that the only way the US could go to war was if they were hit first. Even then FDR could not go to war with Germany until Hitler declared war first (which was suicidal).

There's no doubt that FDR was prepared to trade with Britain, and provide lend lease and credit and that privately he wanted to go further, faster. It doesn't matter. The point is that when faced with a) An international crisis b) an election and c) public opinion FDR trimmed for votes. It's not unusual.

4) We haven't lectured Chirac and Schroeder, they've been telling us how terrible we are. We never interfered in Europe or hectored Eurpoean leaders. As Steven Denbeste says "The US didn't presume to lecture the Europeans in each case about how they would do better to emulate the more intellectually and morally superior American way and not fight each other. The US didn't hector each of the nations there for consultation, or demand the right to approve of any attacks they made or any operations they participated in."

Wilson was nothing if not a lecturer and hectorer. Roosevelt sent repeated messages to Munich urging peaceful negotiation. Nothing wrong with that at all. They did do it though.

All I have been saying is that to understand the European position, one has to understand that these are leaders chosing to respond to the popular will of their electorate. Now, I happen to think their electorate are wrong. If the US really wants support, the way to get it s not to get mad at Schroeder and Chirac for their vacillation, but to change the terms of political debate by taking away the sense that the US just wants to attack Iraq and blow everyone else. That's not the reality of the political position of the US. It's a government responding to a real and serious threat.

The more the people of Europe see that, the more their leaders will be able to support the US. We might decry the fact that Schroeder and Chrac are not pushing hard for their nations to enter war, but an understanding of the political enviroment they are operating in helps to change things a lot more than getting annoyed.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2002

TUC Euro debate starting now

John "chins" Edmonds started off badly. Little applause for his claim that joining Euro will save jobs and obscure claim that Blair shouldn't be friendly with America but Europe instead, while at the same time showing contempt for being too friendly with Euro leaders who the TUC disapprove of.

Why do I care about this? Because if The TUC does not support the Euro, it represents the first defeat for the pro-Euro groups from the left. It would be the first sign that Europe might be almost as toxic for Labour as it was for the Tories.

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Tony Banks is going to run for Mayor

Forget the issues for a moment, and just imagine what fun a Banks-Norris- Livingstone race would be.

Nicky Gavron will be a tough opponent in Labour's selection, but she has been so supine in front of Livingstone she may have done enough to give Banks a chance amongst the many London Labour people who loathe Livingstone. As for the unsure, backing Livingstone for mayor is a very different sell than backing Gavron as Livingstone by proxy.

Still feeling strange about writing about anything other than the anniversary, but this Washington Times article made me feel a little better.

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I keep drifting between thoughts

I keep drifting. I think I should be post about the Euro and the TUC. So I go to a website for the source material and I come up against this jarring set of stories posted together as if they were of the same importance and I stop in my tracks. Is this as jarring to other as it is for me?

From today's Guardian online front page.

Iraq urges attacks on US interests
World latest: Minister calls on Arabs to target Americans if Iraq is invaded.
Special report: Iraq
More world news
More UK news

Doubt cast over Cilla's future
Media: ITV approaches alternative presenter to host Blind Date.

Of special importance
Washington DC dispatch: Tony Blair is staking a lot on a transatlantic relationship that has been of only sporadic interest to American presidents, writes Julian Borger.
More exclusive reports from our foreign correspondents

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Odd isn't it..

How strangely this cover story on the growth of tattooing in the Times today sits with todays news and anniversary. Its' pierced belly button cover, pink and bright and human, sits next to the sombre black and white of the "anniversary" cover. Somehow this encapsulates our schizophrenic reaction to the events around us.

On the one hand the war on terror takes all our attention. On the other, you would never know what we face. I wonder if it was ever thus.

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The anniversary

I read the newspapers today with a sense of mounting frustration. We have begun to compartmentalise the 11th of September. Each newspaper had their seperate supplements and pull out features. The gravity of what happened last year and what it means for the future deserves more than a pull out supplement. It deserves gritted teeth, reflection and resolve.

I agree with Dick Cheney's comments last night. We need to make sure that we remained focussed on the struggles ahead. No war against terrorists is easy, nor short, nor simple.

For a long time it will feel as if the enemy is a ghost, a figment of our imaginations.

We will be fighting a campaign against shadows, against rumour, against chatter.

We will only know we have succeeded with each passing day without disaster.

I do not envy the leaders of the world faced with the burden of keeping our complex, easily diverted, fragmented world united in this long and arduous struggle.

We can only hope for them, and for us, that we are all able to meet this terrible new challenge.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Roosevelt and Wilson- a lesson for Schroeder?

An interesting post over at Air Strip One
about whether Germany will find a way to support an attack on Iraq.

"Expect Germany to find some way to come round to war if Schroeder wins on anti-war rhetoric"

One thing that annoys me about the current fashion for US hawks to lambast Euroweenies or "cheese eating surrender monkeys" for their cowardice is that it totally ignores the lessons of the US Presidential elections in 1916 and 1940.

In both cases a brutal dictatorship threatened mainland Europe. In both cases the nations of Europe went to war against an aggressor. In both cases sitting US presidents swore blind in their election campaigns that no way would the USA get drawn into a bloody foreign war. In both cases the USA only joined the war when their own citizens were attacked.

Why? Was it because Roosevelt and Wilson were burger eating surrender monkeys when faced with the Kaiser and the Nazi's?

Of course not. It was because in a democratic society, it is pretty tough to run miles ahead of your own people. So you say things like

“I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again; your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” FDR, 1940 or

“He kept us out of war” Wilson campaign slogan, 1916

Now, how different is this from Schroeder's campaign rhetoric of today?

I think the Americans are right in demanding support for the war against terror. I think Tony Blair is right to see the seriousnous of the issue now, not later. However, he is fortunate to be incredibly powerful internally as Prime Minister and faces no election or internal coalition to maintain. Neither is true of the Bundeskanzler.

My point is that those Conservatives who decry all opposition as cowardice, and who wrap themselve in the mantle of Churchill, are revealing themselves ignorant of their own history of isolationism. After all, what Schroeder, Chirac, Putin and Zemin are doing now is merely an echo of the history of American involvement in "foriegn wars". In the end, I believe they'll do the right thing. It just might take a year or so.

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Blair at the TUC

Well, I'm going to be obsequious about the Prime Minister again, but at least I've got Andrew Sullivan, Stephen Pollard and National Review on-line for company!

Again, The PM's performance at the TUC was impressive and comprehensive. Stephen Pollard puts it very well, and I have little to add to his comments on the speech itself.

I would disagree with his conclusion about the Euro though. Stephen, quite rightly, says that the PM cannot fight two foriegn policy campaigns (Iraq and the Euro), where he is divorced from the opinion polls.

"The Prime Minister is on the wrong side of British public opinion on the two key issues of the time: Iraq and the euro. Does he have the political capital both to take us into war against Iraq and take Britain into the euro? Of course not."

Where I differ from Mr Pollard is that he believes it is an either/or choice.

" Unless he can find a way of bringing Saddam to heel without having to fight him, his euro plans will lie in shreds."
(I have edited here)
"If, however, it ends up being the US and UK acting alone (itself a clear indication of where our true allegiance lies) there will be a double whammy of good news for Atlanticists and eurosceptics. "

There is another scenario, in which a successful campaign against Iraq gives the Prime Minister even more authority in international affairs. This places the Euro debate and referendum after any campaign against Iraq. If these two issues are taken subsequently, Mr Blairs powers of persuasion might be even more effective in any referendum camaign.

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The re-writing of history begins...

I never thoufght I'd live to see the day when the Soviet Union go a write up in the National Review!

Michael Long, in replying to a question about why is Iraq more of a threat than the nuclear armed Soviet Union says

"The old USSR was run by men who did not see the abject and instantaneous murder of civilians as a reason to celebrate. The USSR was a member of at least marginal stability and civility in the world community, and their nukes were part of a balance of power between competing nations.

"Iraq, however, is led by someone with such a blind hatred of the West that the death of those who live there would be good news to him. We are as useless to him alive as we are dead. His lack of respect for innocent life is measured in the body count of the Kurds he gassed in the North."

And I thought Stalin had murdered 12 million people, that the Soviet Union was a police state based on the torture and murder of it's citizens and had, as its primary aim, the overthrow of Capitalist society.

Isn't the real difference that the Soviet Union was a lot worse that Hussein, but was just too strong to take out?

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One way Labour is going Red

Everyone reports on Labour's increasing debts.

What does it mean? First, that the previous general secretary had absolutlely no financial control systems, according to those in the know.

Second, that Labour will undoubtedly have to streamline (downsize?) operations and staff. It has to maintain it's policy and press operations, so the most obvious source for saving will be the regional network.

As I've mentioned before the importance of this will likely be underestimated by the national press, in part because of metropolitan bias and in part because all political strategists tend to underestimate the importance of the ground war.


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Oh dear, oh dear

You almost feel sorry for Conservative Future. Tory media management triumphs again.

Charlotte O'Sullivan manages to make them look both bigoted and pathetic.

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Monday, September 09, 2002

A Blogger's credo?

Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed be doing at that moment.
Robert Benchley.

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In the interests of balance

The Tories are blaming the Chancellor for the Pensions crisis. I'd be surprised if I agreed with the analysis, but it's nice to see the Tories try to make an intelligent point on a matter of national interest.

Quotes from David Willetts from Gallery News, which is available on e-mail if you subscribe here

"In the past, some employers have taken contribution holidays, but the money they saved has had far less of an impact on funded pensions than the Chancellor's extra taxes, " Mr Willetts said.

He pointed to figures showing that the value of contribution holidays between 1987 and 2000 was £1.4bn a year - compared with £6.5bn each year, the cost of Mr Brown's policies, he said.

Around £5bn of this was tax and £1.5bn was to make up the shortfall caused by insufficient National Insurance rebates.

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There's something happening here.. what it is ain't exactly clear.

So far, at the TUC, I've heard the leader of the Railwaymen say he's pulling people off the London Underground and Tyne and wear Metro because of the firefighters strike (under cover of safety reasons).

I've heard the president of Unison , one Dave Anderson, say that the reason the BNP is prospering is the failure of the Labour party to protect the interest of workers in care homes and local councils.

I've heard the leader of Aslef (I think) say that the Labour government should pay pensioners more instead of paying for a war on Iraq.

I've heard a standing ovation for the leader of the Palestinian Trade Unions.

I'm about to hear a vigorous debate on Iraq, which is likely to lead to generous condemnation of Labour's leader.

While all ths was happening, There was a very important debate on Pensions which will get no attention at all.

Who says the unions have got their priorities wrong? I do.

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O Brothers where art thou?

As the horny handed sons of toil gather in Blackpool for the Trades Union Congress, they can rejoice in the thought that once again unions are at the centre of Britain's political life.

For the first time in a generation, Union General Secretaries are in demand, appearing on television at will, commanding the front pages of Braodsheets and enduring the tradional Tabloid treatment of awful photo's and spurious far left links being dredged up. Unions matter again.

So it is a shame that they are using their new influence so poorly.

There are three issues that the Unions could concentrate on profitably, where there is a real need for a voice of the workers to be heard.

Pensions are a nightmare. Companies that skipped pensions contributions in the boom years to improve profitability are now using the lean years as an excuse to force employees to accept worse pensions. This is a scandal, and I think represents the worst qualities of Business leaders.

Manufacturing continues to suffer as a sector. There is a need for a serious debate about how to turn around these industries that does not revolve around the Euro. The unions have a huge role to play here as they both have a clear understanding of the failures of British management in he past, and a recognition of past union mistakes also.

Finally, the Unions have a valuable role to play in considering how to end poverty . Many Union members are at the lowest end of pay scales. Whether it be through the minimum wage or targetted benefits, this is one area the government has tried to tackle. The unions argue that the government has not gone far enough, and they have a point. Whatever the merits, the unions have a serious case and it is important that they make it and be heard.

However, Union Leaders are diluting the important contribution they could make here by a combination of political grandstanding and pointless rhetoric.

Whether it be on Civil Liberties (as Bill Morris says in this interview today in the Guardian). Or on 40% pay rises for firefighters or on the Euro. Or on Iraq. Or on general Labour party strategy and political direction as John Edmonds and Derek Simpson wish to focus on.

As I write, Derek Simpson is doing an Interview on Iraq. Why? What special interest is it of the Amalgamated Engineers and Electricians Union?

Let us be clear on this. The Trade Unions wil have a powerful voice in any Labour government, as long as they do not try to act as an internal oppsition with a competing philosphy of government. The best strategy for the union leadership is to stay focused on the 3 or 4 issues that they really want to change, and lobby for them carefully and quietly.

This is because the government is disposed to be sympathetic on the industrial agenda, but is scared horribly by the kind of campaign Tim Yeo is running for the Tories. The last thing that Labour wants is to be accused of bowing to their "militant paymasters" (though a measure of his effectiveness is that I cannot find a link to his camapigning anywhere).

Every time Union leaders go on television about any of these extraneous issues, they set their cause further back. This is just poor strategy, and it makes one wonder what the real motivation here is. Surely not just personal aggrandisement?

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